X Hits the Spot: Why .DOCX is Better than .DOC for Authors Using Word

by Joel Friedlander on April 17, 2013 · 23 comments

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by Tracy R. Atkins (@TracyRAtkins)

Tracy is the Word expert behind our new templates for indie authors at BookDesignTemplates.com. His last post here was Guide to Book Launch and Advance Sales Strategies with CreateSpace and Lulu, and he also contributed most of the content in Your Top 7 Book Design Templates Questions Answered.

Ed: Today marks the launch of our first set of 3 Word templates designed specifically for nonfiction books. We had the first half of our “Grand Opening” several weeks ago when we launched our templates for fiction, memoir, and narrative nonfiction. See the notice at the bottom of this article to find out more and for a coupon code that will get you a *huge* discount.



Since launch, BookDesignTemplates.com has received many great questions and shared experiences from active authors. We are frequently asked what the difference is between the older Microsoft Word .DOC file format and the newer .DOCX format.

On the surface, it seems like the only difference is an “X” on the end of the file and you need a newer version of Word to use it.  In reality, there are myriad advantages to the new format that can really benefit authors, editors, and everyone else along the path to self-publishing.

The venerable .DOC file format has been a fixture of the desktop publishing and word processing scene for over thirty years. During that time, the format has had numerous changes, evolving from a simple ASCII text document, to a format that includes rich text, markup, and object embedding for photos and fonts. For authors the world over the .DOC file has symbolized a shareable document format that just works.

As with all things technology related, times change. In 2007, Microsoft introduced a new version of Word using an open file format with the extension .DOCX. This change was met with a collective sigh of frustration from authors and other Word users, as older versions of Word didn’t play nice with the new format.

This became a point of contention and many authors still resist the now six-year-old .DOCX format for that reason alone. Others have been resistant to upgrading to a newer version of Word because they are not sure if there is value in the new program and the new format.

However, the technical merits of the .DOCX format are many and are especially beneficial for authors. It is time to take a second look the new format, and consider an upgrade from that older version of Word so that you can take full advantage of what .DOCX has to offer.

It’s Smaller: .DOCX files can be significantly smaller in size and can open faster on your computer

Microsoft Word’s older .DOC format was an innovative file format for encoding documents. It enabled objects like pictures and clip art to be embedded into the file, instead of only allowing text like many previous file formats including .TXT. This was a boon for authors and desktop publishers as they could easily insert photos and graphics by the dozens into their documents.

Though the format is convenient, authors soon realized that a large number of embedded photos or clip art caused the file to swell in size rapidly, taking up lot of disk space. These often behemoth files took a lot of time to transmit over the internet and many files were too large to even email.

With the advent of the .DOCX format, these issues are greatly reduced. The .DOCX file format utilizes a system of compartmentalization and compression to store its contents. Much like the familiar .ZIP file, the .DOCX file makes short work of large documents with many images inside, reducing the file size by as much as half. With the reduced file size, documents can be transferred via email faster and typically open in Word faster on your Mac or PC, saving you valuable time.

It’s More Reliable: .DOCX is much less sensitive to file corruption when you pass it around

File corruption can occur when you transfer files frequently between different computers and other people. This is of special concern to authors who collaborate with editors, proofreaders, and other professionals as their manuscript makes its way to final form. Corruption most often occurs in .DOC format files, misaligning the margins, headers, pagination, and page numbering settings, as the file changes hands.

The issue of .DOC corruption had even spawned a cottage industry for special recovery programs being sold to desperate authors who lost a manuscript and didn’t have a backup. The .DOCX format handles pagination differently, using the simplified XML coding language instead of binary, and is far less likely to corrupt when it passes hands.

It’s Hi-Fi: Images embedded in .DOCX work better and are often higher fidelity when compressed

Older .DOC files store their information by breaking embedded images and fonts down into binary code and storing it alongside the text and formatting into one large and complex file. To combat the problem of creating huge files, image compression inside the file became a standard procedure to keep the file size manageable.

This had the side effect of compressing or re-encoding images and other graphical objects in a way that may introduce artifacts, or down sample the image quality in the process. Many authors using .DOC files have been surprised by their originally sharp images or graphics looking pixelated or off-color when they view the output of their .DOC file from the printer.

In contrast, the file structure of the .DOCX format is compartmentalized in a way that embedded objects like photos and fonts are stored inside the document in separate folders as complete files. The compression technology in .DOCX is far more advanced, reducing size without reducing the quality nearly as much.

Although this all happens in the background, Word dynamically creates folders and stores images and graphics inside the file and automatically compresses them. This means that there is less error inducing conversion for images and they preserve a higher fidelity than traditional .DOC format file with image compression. To see how Word manages files, you can actually rename a .DOCX file with a .ZIP extension and open it to see all of the items stored away in tidy little folders.

It’s Future Proof: .DOCX is portable to many web-based applications, like eReader platforms, making it future-proof

The .DOCX format is built around an open standard called Extensible Markup Language, or XML, that is used in many different modern web applications. XML language also uses web-standard cascading style sheets, or CSS, for formatting in the document, meaning that it will translate to other web-like formats, like eBooks, with higher degree of accuracy in a repeatable way.

The handling of style data is especially important when converting books to the Kindle KF8 format or other modern eBook platforms where you want them to look as much like the source document as possible.

As eBook technology progresses and embraces the full feature set of XML with CSS, your .DOCX documents will likely retain an even great fidelity in eBook form. Much as PDF accurately reflects the WYSYWIG nature of Word documents today, eBooks of the future will likely look and feel just as polished.

Therefore, .DOCX not only makes moving your document to many eBook platforms easier today, they will likely be an even better choice for use as eBook technology evolves.

It’s More Secure: .DOCX is hardened against macro viruses, which is good for people who share documents

Older versions of Word allowed users to embed macros into their .DOC documents to make repetitive tasks like applying styles or copying and pasting easier. Although this was a handy feature for many authors, malicious program writers exploited this feature to introduce macro-viruses that could cause mayhem with a system reading an infected file.

Microsoft decided wisely to split this functionality out of the .DOCX format and created a special format, .DOCM, to offer the same functionality in a way that is more secure and up-front about what is inside the file. This makes .DOCX a more secure file format without the worry of macro-virus issues.

Need to upgrade?

Windows users can get Word 2013 for the PC here, or as part of Office 2013 here.

Apple users can get Office 2011 for Mac here.

Tracy R. AtkinsTracy R. Atkins has been a career technology aficionado since he was young. At the age of eighteen he played a critical role in an internet startup, cutting his tech-teeth during the dot-com boom. He is also a passionate writer whose stories intertwine technology with exploration of the human condition. Tracy is the self-published author of the novel Aeternum Ray and the co-founder of BookDesignTemplates.com.



Sale going on now
This is the second half of our “Grand Opening” celebration, and you get to celebrate too! We now have 9 carefully designed, fully formatted Microsoft Word templates to help you create beautiful, industry standard books with the software you already own and know how to use.

Hey, they even include all the fonts you need and a complete Formatting Guide that walks you through how to use them, step by step.

To thank you for your business, during our celebration, you can get 41% off everything in our store. Yep, load up on templates while you can, the sale ends at midnight on April 30. To get your discount, simply enter the code “book41” in the shopping cart when you go to check out, then hit “update cart” and you’ll be good to go.

Click the banner below to go check these templates out right now.

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    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    Didi March 10, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Simple and useful, thanks Joel!

    Reply

    Annie Howland October 28, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I feel like the heavens just opened up and a chorus of hallelujahs was heard. Just spent the weekend transferring old manuscripts from multiple thumb drives which had been copied from CDs which had been copied from floppies. (I am working in the cloud now–can I get an amen?). Anyway, unsure of the difference between .doc and .docx, and which version I should save…I crumbled, and ate Halloween candy instead of dealing with it. This morning, fortified with coffee, I searched for an answer and found your column. Hooray! The perfect explanation. I am thrilled and will now celebrate with a miniature Snickers.

    Reply

    Anne July 23, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Annie, that’s hilarious! Had a good chuckle. I personally keep a stash of Dove dark chocolates for just such frustrations.

    This article is great! Finally, a clear and detailed explanation of the difference between .doc and .docx. I work with clients to assist them with self publishing and the majority still work in .doc. Now I’ll know to insist we all work in .docx together and offer the reasons why.

    Reply

    Kevin September 24, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Hi all – I have a horror story and a question on whether docx wouldmake it worse or better.

    I use .doc for books to be self-published on createspace. I have lots of images that need to be 300 dpi, but Word 2007 defaults to compressing them, making the doc unpublishable. The workaround is hilariously bad:

    1) before EVER saving, save as, but before saving, go to the “tools” dropdown
    2) choose the “compress pictures” option
    3) click the “options” button
    4) now, finally, you can uncheck “automically compress pictures”.

    Can you believe that? And you have to do it for every single doc and if you forget, all your pictures are ruined and you have to go back and reinsert them one by one.

    So, all of this is with .doc. I’ve tried saving a doc as a docx and it destroys all the page turns, but for future books I could switch to docx – the question is whether it’s easier or harder to shut off this horrible compression and/or whether it can be set globally once and for all. This thing of permanently destroying your data (i.e., the resolution of your photo) without asking is really quite evil in my opinion. InDesign simply links the document to the file on your drive, but I’ve spent so long on Word’s learning curve that I don’t want to switch. Also, the linking method gets messy when you come back months later and the pictures have a different path.

    Reply

    Cristina Bazan June 12, 2013 at 12:55 am

    Tracy,
    I found your article very helpful and I wonder if you can help me even further. I am a translator and as such I often have to deliver the Portuguese version of an article or of whatever document with all features and appearance of the original. This includes Graphics containing text. I use a 2002 or XP version of the Office suits, which means I open a docx and save it as doc, work on the document and deliver it to the client in the doc format. For me to decide if it is worth buying 1013 Office I need to know if editable text whithin graphics and images in a docx are flattened when saved as doc. Thanks for your attention. Greetings from Rio de Janeiro.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins June 12, 2013 at 6:07 am

    That is a great question Cristina.

    From my experience, the objects with editable text, and vector art like “smart art” are still able to be edited in .DOC form. Now, I experimented with this by creating the file as a .DOCX first and then saving it as a .DOC. It did change the shape’s look and fell slightly, but overall, it worked. Now, I can’t guarantee that older version of Word, pre 2007, will be able to edit those vector images and shapes, but they should be able to just fine.

    Reply

    Cristina Bazan June 12, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Tracy,

    Thank you so much for your prompt reply. That’s what I thought, but for all your previous considerations I think it is time for me to think about investing in upgading. Thanks again.

    Reply

    Ed Teja April 21, 2013 at 12:00 am

    The biggest negative for authors is that most publishing houses, magazines and so on do not accept docx files. And, if you upload ebooks to Smashwords, they don’t all docx files either. For me, even though I have the latest word and like docx it makes more sense to default to doc files so I don’t forget who accepts what.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins June 12, 2013 at 6:10 am

    Ed,

    It is true that some houses do not accept final files in the .DOC format. However, the advantages of working with .DOCX are many, and you can easily save your “final” versions for submission in the .DOC form to send to companies that require it. That way you can get all of the advantages of the format during 99% of the work period.

    -Tracy

    Reply

    Duncan Long April 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for this info… I bought an old version of Word (2007) at a considerable savings and thus gained access to DOCX that way. A little shopping at Amazon can scare up a copy :o)

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins April 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    You certainly can find some deep discounts if you look around. Just be careful not to go older than 2007. Though 2003 does have support for .DOCX through patching, it can sometimes be temperamental.

    Reply

    Marcy Kennedy April 18, 2013 at 5:39 am

    I’m a freelance editor and .docx also has a feature that’s really important when you reach that stage of the process. It tracks text that’s cut from one place and pasted into another with a different mark-up than text that was merely deleted. It makes an editor’s job easier when suggesting changes, and it makes an author’s job easier when sorting through those changes.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins April 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Thats a great point Marcy! Some of the change tracking in .DOCX is fantastic. Another great feature of the newer versions of work is that you can track sources and citations much easier too.

    Reply

    Lettice Stuart April 18, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Thanks for this info. I have been saving documents as .doc instead of default .docx to email because I thought many people could not open .docx files. I appreciate this informative, clear, well-written post.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins April 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Hello Lettice!

    There are a large number of people with Office 2007+ now, if not the majority of Office users. That makes using .DOCX an easy choice. :)

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins April 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I wanted to leave a small note here about the templates. Although .DOCX has many advantages, we recognize that not everyone has the latest version of Word. Our non-fiction templates all ship with both the .DOCX and .DOC versions of the file for customer use. We are also happy to supply customers with .DOC versions of our fiction templates, upon request.

    Reply

    Rob Siders April 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

    The simple fact that you can open them up and grab images in their original, uncompressed state is worth the price of the software alone…

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins April 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    That is a great point Rob. Having easy access to those images can be a real life saver when you are putting together a project!

    Reply

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